Illinois Senate goes home without finishing business

Thursday, May 27, 2010

SPRINGFIELD --- The Illinois Senate adjourned for the holiday weekend without approving a $4 billion pension borrowing plan, a key element of the state spending plan.

The Senate did send to Gov. Pat Quinn measures allowing deadbeat taxpayers to pay up without penalty, a partial back-to-school sales tax holiday and emergency budget powers for the governor.

Adjournment came shortly before 7 p.m. Earlier in the day, Senate President John Cullerton acknowledged that there aren't enough votes to approve the borrowing plan, meaning lawmakers could end up coming back in the coming months to take it up.

The Senate needs a three-fifths majority --- 36 votes --- to approve the borrowing. There are 37 Democrats in the Senate, but at least one of them isn't at the Capitol and a handful of others are balking at the idea of borrowing more money to keep the state afloat for another year.
"We don’t have enough votes yet. In the House, some Republicans supported it. So far, we have no Republican support for the pension borrowing," Cullerton said. "The problem is that we have a few Democrats who do not want to vote for it and have not voted for it in the past."

Cullerton also acknowledged the Senate may have to come back next week to approve the borrowing, when the absent Democratic senators could be rounded up.

“It requires three-fifths vote. It’s passed the House already," Cullerton said. "So at some point in time, we’ll come back if we can’t pass it today.”

Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno said she's found one GOP senator "at most" who might be considering voting for borrowing.

"But there is nobody committed,” said Radogno, of Lemont. “I think when we walk through how different this was compared to last year, it’s a bad thing to do without an overall plan or any way to pay it back. It’s not good policy.”

Radogno was asked to explain what's different from last year, when Republican senators voted for a pension borrowing plan.

“There are really two main things. One is the fact that last year we had a new governor who said 'Give me this help and then I’m going to straighten things out.’ Well, that hasn’t happened, as we know there really haven’t been cuts made, there really hasn’t been fundamental reform in any part of state government. So when we gave him that latitude last year, we didn’t get back what we expected. But the other significant thing that is different is the way these bonds are structured. Last year it was level principle, five-year repayment, so the interest costs were lower. What’s being proposed now, you go three years with interest only. So it’s very bad policy," Radogno said.
Cullerton’s comments took on an added dimension as Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, adjourned the House at 12:24 p.m., saying he would call lawmakers back to his chamber if needed “in the next few days or over the next several months.” Madigan said the Senate plans to adjourn later today.

Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said she will be voting against borrowing to make the pension payment because it's not a comprehensive budget solution.

"I don't think we can afford to punt it down the road and keeping avoiding the problem even longer," Steans said. Steans said she may be able to support a smaller borrowing effort if it was part of a budget package that also included more spending cuts and a way to raise revenue, such as an income tax increase.

Steans also expressed concerns about a plan to give Gov. Pat Quinn broad budget powers that would allow him to dole out money to state agencies as he sees fit. Historically lawmakers were in charge of setting spending levels for agencies, and Steans said giving Quinn that power two years in a row would erode the "checks and balance" the legislature is supposed to provide.